(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, November 2016) I have watched Blade Runner at least once before, but it was a long time ago and I can’t guarantee that it was in one single sitting. It was probably in the mid-nineties, at a time when I was diving deep into nerd culture and the film was de rigueur viewing—the only accepted conclusion to watching the film was to brand it an undeniable classic. Actually sitting down to watch its Final Cut in one gulp twenty years later, however, I find myself somewhat more reserved. Oh, it’s still a good film, especially when measured against the Science Fiction movies of that time: It’s considerably more mature, refined and ambiguous. From today’s perspective, however, it’s not quite as fresh. There are (especially on Blu Ray) annoying differences between the image quality of the shots, sometimes grainy, sometimes blurred. The special effects are limited and used sparingly (even often literally repeated), the themes have been reused almost endlessly since then, and the pacing is notably slack—by the time the classic ending came by, I was surprised at how little had happened. This isn’t to take away from its achievement, but to put it in context as a tremendously influential film. While the vision of a multicultural rain-soaked neon-lit Los Angeles was, at the time, unlike anything else, it crossed over to cliché roughly twenty-five years ago. It’s a testimony to director Ridley Scott, as well as to actors Harrison Ford, Sean Young and Rutger Hauer that the film still holds up today even after inspiring so many other works. In a way, the fact that we can’t watch Blade Runner in the same way today than in 1982 proves how much of a classic it is. But as a film, it’s not perfect—so mark me down as nominally interested in the idea of next year’s sequel.
(On-demand video, March 2012) Trying to deliver alternate history on a TV-movie budget is a tough assignment, so it’s best to remain indulgent while tackling HBO’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ celebrated thriller. A murder mystery set in an alternate 1964 in which the Nazis reign triumphant over Europe, Fatherland focuses on the investigation of an honest SS officer trying to figure out the common link between a number of murders. The visual look of the film is intentionally dated, as if it was a sixties film rather than a mid-nineties TV production. Given the budget, the viewer shouldn’t expect much in terms of alternate-universe eye-candy: many swastikas, two or three alt-Berlin matte paintings and a curiously disturbing scene in which Nazis have punch-card computers at their disposal. Fatherland shares a number of problems with Harris’ novel: The entire story is built upon a revelation that the viewer already knows –a mark of some naiveté in the alternate-universe genre. The construction of the story is also fairly standard, leaving to a number of imposed scenes in which the expected occurs in pretty much the accepted fashion. But the film introduces a number of extra problems that make it worse and worse the closer it gets to a conclusion. Not only does it dispense with the elegiac ending of the novel, but it tries to tries up all loose ends nicely with a fantastically improbable appeal to authority, and then with a twenty-years-later voiceover. (It also features a divorced father trying to kidnap his kid away from his mother –but hey, that’s the moral leniency we’re supposed to give to protagonists.) It amounts to a bit of a curiosity; a bog-standard thriller set in an unusual alternate-history framework, with some intriguing images along the way to a disappointing conclusion. Rutger Hauer is fine as the lead detective, while Miranda Richardson is unexplainably annoying as the American journalist running around and getting in trouble by not showing a shred of cleverness. But then again, that’s how the script goes: All ham-fisted exposition and transparent character emotions. Fatherland is worth a look for the curiosity value, but it’s not exactly a good movie.
(In theatres, April 2011) Second full feature to emerge from the Grindhouse trailers, Hobo with a Shotgun proudly embraces its exploitation raison d’être and delivers an old-fashioned schlocky action B-movie. Shot in Nova Scotia (and partially financed with Canadian tax dollars), this conscious attempt to re-create violent movies from the eighties straddles a fine line between ironic comedy and earnest mayhem. The title is the plot of the film, set in a city that recalls the worst paranoid fantasies about New York at its lowest point of urban decay: It’s useless to discuss narrative coherence in a film that’s not meant to have much of it. Fortunately, the exploitation-movie tone is well-captured: While the film is extremely gory, the violence feels more absurdly ridiculous than disgusting –and considering that an element of the climax is a lead character stabbing a villain with the exposed bones of a maimed arm, that’s saying something. In-between the overdone synth-heavy score, spitting melodrama, garish colors, buckets of blood, grainy pictures and ham-fisted sequences of gratuitous evil, it goes without saying that this film will appeal to a certain viewership: It takes a special kind of cinematographic literacy to enjoy the retro-VHS atmosphere that make up this film’s peculiar charm. Rutger Hauer growls his way expertly in the title role, while the villains make faces at the camera and Molly Dunsworth does her job just looking cute. The end could have used an epilogue, there are a few underwhelming sequences in the mix and it would have been nice if, like Machette, the film could have included some deeper social relevance, but otherwise, it’s hard to think of a recent film that achieves its aim as surely as Hobo with a Shotgun… even if those aims are far, far below those of respectable cinema.